In ANZSOG research commissioned for the APS Review, Janine O’Flynn (University of Melbourne), and Gary Sturgess (University of New South Wales) explore commissioning and contracting. They consider how the APS of 2030 should deploy these tools in pursuing outcomes. Their analysis points to a range of enduring and emerging challenges that demand attention.
These terms are often used interchangeably. While inter-related, one way of understanding the differences is:
Commissioning and contracting matters because of scope and scale.
Public sector organisations engage with other parties to address short-term capacity problems, access specialist skills, introduce innovations or access capital investment.
Outsourcing can also be driven by:
The research found the APS has a deeply embedded procurement mindset, shaped by a long experience of outsourcing. To be more strategic, the APS needs to develop a broader conception of contracting and see it as a range of tools and relationships that can enable the achievement of purpose.
Determining what is ‘core’ assumes it is possible to draw hard boundaries around what government should do. This is more easily said than done. Government activity is increasingly complex and interconnected given government works with many actors to achieve outcomes. In this environment, the core work of government is stewarding these complex systems towards purpose and outcomes.
The scale and scope of the APS’s engagement with other parties demands that system design, stewardship and strategic commissioning becomes the core focus for the APS. This also requires the APS to retain and develop its strategic policy capacity so that it is an “intelligent buyer”.
Being more strategic starts with fundamental questions of purpose:
This puts the focus on purpose, needs and aspirations rather than process and tasks. It also addresses the relationship between means and ends and builds in values such as fairness, equity, legitimacy and integrity.
Starting with clarity of purpose means asking:
Answering these questions moves away from a procurement mindset towards a more holistic and strategic approach to commissioning.
An analysis of Australian National Audit Office reports and other government-commissioned studies revealed the following challenges:
The APS also faces new challenges:
Strategic commissioning emphasises engagement with communities and clients/users of services. This enables a richer understanding of aspirations and needs so outcomes can be clarified and better decisions made from the outset. Commissioning should be anchored to community needs and aspirations, not decisions made by government for communities
Building this relational capital and trust takes time and effort. This will require particular skills and competencies of public servants, and the development of different organisational capabilities.
Being more strategic also means making decisions about what government will no longer do. This is the process of decommissioning where unneeded, underperforming, failing or obsolete services are discontinued. Creative decommissioning can be used to drive innovation and transformation by closing the old and creating the new.
The paper proposes the following directions for reform.
Getting the work of government done – Janine O’Flynn and Gary L. Sturgess, Australia and New Zealand School of Government, March 2019.
This article originally appeared in The Mandarin.